My CDL School Experience - Sage

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Feanor K.'s Comment
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Hello Trucking Truthers, my name is Feanor! I have been a lurker here on TT for the last few months, ever since my (rather abrupt) decision to get into this industry. I really love this site, and cannot overstate how helpful it has been to me, both in my decision to get into trucking, and in getting prepared for it! Well today that preparation payed off as I successfully completed my CDL test, and am on my way to orientation on the 28th :)

I really want to contribute something back to this community, and had thought about recording my progress in a daily diary like some people on here have done. I kind of regret that I didn't, but in the end my focus was too consumed with keeping up with the training and making sure I was ready on game day.

Well game day is passed and I am on my way now, so I figure the least I can do is give a review of my experience at Sage Truck Driving School.

To start with, I had no experience driving anything larger than a mini-van going in, and had never driven a Manual (this is NOT a disadvantage). Immediately after paying, I was sent to do a walk-in DOT physical and a drug test. They were both extremely easy-going (vision/hearing check, knee tapping, and light stretching) and after passing, I enrolled in the 4 week, 150hr program. The way this is set up is 2 weeks (10 days) of classroom, and 2 weeks (10 days) of behind-the-wheel. (Note: I used the Highroad Training Program to get my Permit before going in, otherwise there is a 3 day period of studying for and taking that test.)

Now one great thing about Sage (and perhaps the top reason I chose them), is that all driving and backing time is 1-on-1. Just you and the instructor, which is a very big deal, atleast to me. I know I'm not the only person out there who has trouble learning with 4 students crammed into a truck watching your every move and giving 'advice'.

The classroom training runs 8am - 5:15pm, but from your first day you are strongly encouraged to come in a half hour early (7:30am) to observe and practice your pre-trip. This 30 minutes a day is basically all you are allotted for practicing that pre-trip so make the most of it! By the end, that adds up to a lot of hours though, and it should be more than enough if you are making an effort.

So it comes out to about 10hrs per day for your first 2 weeks. This is almost entirely open-book study with the instructor going over the text-book and adding their own personal advice and stories. Expect a LOT of stories. Most instructors at these schools will have 15-20+ years experience, and no shortage of awesome, funny, bizzare, and sometimes scary things to tell you about. It's actually a lot of fun with the right instructors.

Most of the stuff you are studying is things you have already gone over if you have read your CDL manual (or TT's very own, very awesome High Road Training Program), but in more detail. At my school the teachers also liked to get us outside to the yard at every excuse - whether to inspect the brake system, couple/uncouple, or just watch the more advanced students practicing. There was also one day dedicated to Preventative Maintenance, which consisted almost entirely of measuring tread-depth on tires, checking tire pressure with a gauge, and sitting at the picnic table outside spotting different axle-combinations on trucks passing by :P We were also shown how to chain up, or 'throw iron'.

Aside from that, you will watch some old grainy videos (I swear, nothing newer than 1990 is allowed in truck class-rooms) and take an open-book test on the FMCSR book. This is not meant to test your knowledge, but to teach you HOW to use the book to find info, so you are allowed pretty much free to get this info however you want. Easy stuff. Last day is a class on using paper logs, which you will be required to fill out for all of your drive-time there-after.

That is your first 2 weeks in a nut-shell. I'm sure there are some details I left out, it's amazing how quick you forget all the questions you had coming in by the time those 4 weeks are up. So if anyone has any questions feel free to ask. I'll go over my experience with the driving next.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

DOT:

Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.

Fm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Phillyfan13's Comment
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Congratulations on best of luck on your orientation.

I am also considering going to a local school and then on to orientation. Your write up provided exactly what I was looking for.

Scot

Feanor K.'s Comment
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Congratulations on best of luck on your orientation.

I am also considering going to a local school and then on to orientation. Your write up provided exactly what I was looking for.

Scot

Awesome, really glad it helped! Also thanks :)

After two weeks the class-room portion is finally done! Finiso! Time to get some seat time in! Monday of week 3 is your Drive 1. I went out with the instructor and we coupled up a trailer, practiced the in-cab, then swapped seats so he could drive us out to the Shifting Range. This was a near-abandoned business park with virtually 0 traffic. We unhooked the trailer and started by practicing the shifting pattern bobtail. I got this down fairly quickly and it was time to hook up the trailer. Shifting with the trailer is the same, but let me tell you, adding 50 feet to the butt of your truck really changes the game on maneuverability. Suddenly your eyes need to be on those mirrors as much as the road ahead, while your mind is still trying to wrap itself around the shifting and double-clutching. It can all be overwhelming, but if you know your shifting range and keep an eye on that Tachometer, you'll be just fine.

Your drives are 4 hour sessions, with a 30 min lunch at the 2hr mark. I picked up the shifting pretty quick (thanks to ATS!) and we drove around, practicing turns and starting on a hill a few times. After two hours it was time for lunch, and the instructor had me head to a nearby Truck Stop. Getting in actual traffic was scary but also awesome! It was only a short drive, but when we stopped I could hardly believe I just drove a big rig in town! And with 0 casualties! Awesome!

After lunch we did another tug-test/brake check and then headed back toward the shifting range. Well, something about that break really messed me up, because as soon as we headed back out, my shifting was worse, and I killed the engine at the first intersection. I kinda panicked, but got her started back up again and started pulling out. At this point an ambulance decides to come charging up, and I have to stop halfway out in the intersection to let it by, killing the engine again in the process. By the time it is passed, the light is red ofcourse, and there I am half-way out in the intersection, with some nice gentlemen in cross-traffic deciding to go on ahead and block my path. My hands are shaking and I'm very upset at this point, but my trainer is nice about it, and we finally get a hole and pull out.

These things can happen guys. Just put on those 4-ways and do what you can. You are learning, and the worst that will happen is some people might lose a few minutes of their day in delay. Don't sweat it, just concentrate on getting back where you need to be safely.

Anyway, we get back to the shifting range, and I slowly get my rhythm back. After about an hour, we pull over and the instructor gives me the options: Turn us around and drive back to the school, or swap seats and let him do it. I asked to drive, and we made it back with out any real issues.

I was exhausted and had a headache the size of Mt. Everest, but I had made it through my first day, and even driven us home! Good enough for me!

Tuesday I had off, but Wednesday was Drive 2 - my first backing range. This is a large cleared off area behind the School with lanes of cones set out to practice the Offset Back, and 90° Back. There is enough room for 2 trucks to practice, one on each lane, and the instructor stands in-between, observing and giving advice where needed. Again, 4 hour session, with about 2 hours on each lane, and a 15min break in-between.

I started on the 90, and it went pretty smooth! The instructor was impressed, and only had to correct me a few times. The offset took me a little bit more to get down, until I learned to use those fish-eye mirrors, then I got that sorted out pretty quick too!

Guys, I want to stop at this point to give a huge plug for ATS (American Truck Simulator). This is an awesome game you can buy on Steam for like $20 and can give you some great preparation before even starting your school! The physics are pretty solid, and with the proper controller, can give you invaluable time to build muscle memory in a stress-free practice environment of your own PC! I bought this game about a month before I started school, and it was a GREAT investment. One of the biggest struggles students have initially with backing is getting the feel for the trailer and how to make it go where you want. Well, thanks to ATS I already had that drilled into my head, and steering that trailer already felt natural! Now, ofcourse, NOTHING replaces seat time, but it can give you a great start and some muscle memory for shifting and making that trailer go where you want it to!

The only catch here is that you need a good steering wheel controller. That will run you $300+. There are wheels you can get for much less than that, but they are NOT worth it - I know, I tried them. You need 980 rotation and clutch/gearshift!

I ordered the Logitech Driving Force G29 with the H-Pattern Gearshift for around $350. Yeah, that might sound like alot, but when you think about how much you are dropping for school, already, it's really not much to pay for the ability to practice these things at home in a stress-free environment.

I'm out of words for this post, so to be continued...!

Bobtail:

"Bobtailing" means you are driving a tractor without a trailer attached.

DAC:

Drive-A-Check Report

A truck drivers DAC report will contain detailed information about their job history of the last 10 years as a CDL driver (as required by the DOT).

It may also contain your criminal history, drug test results, DOT infractions and accident history. The program is strictly voluntary from a company standpoint, but most of the medium-to-large carriers will participate.

Most trucking companies use DAC reports as part of their hiring and background check process. It is extremely important that drivers verify that the information contained in it is correct, and have it fixed if it's not.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Feanor K.'s Comment
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Back to my first week of driving at school! Thursday was my second drive. This time we took the dreaded Pete. Why dreaded? Because the clutch on this monster happens to be the stiffest, heaviest, WORST clutch in the history of clutches. I am a fairly fit person, and I was still coming up off the seat trying to get this thing to the floor.

I had the same instructor again, but this time he was showing more of why he is known as the Hardass of the group. Probably because we already had one drive, and he was done being easy on me. He was constantly on me about checking my mirrors more, especially in turns (he was right), and he started asking my about signs we had passed and I missed most of them. Needless to say, this drive was stressful. It still went alright, considering, but I missed a lot of gears and my leg was aching by the end of the day. We took various routes through the small town of Post Falls, ID, focusing on turns and doing a Hazmat stop at the Railroad Tracks. I suppose it's good to get practice with even the worst equipment just in case, but mostly what I got out of that day was just a resolve to NEVER drive that truck again.

Friday, last day of week one! New instructor this time, and he was MUCH more laid back. We took a new route and I had my first Freeway drive! I was pretty nervous about it getting on, but I learned pretty quick that this was actually the EASY part. Driving straight with no traffic lights or shifting? Hell yes! The only part worry about here at all is the off-ramps really. My instructor says this are has THE worst freeway ramps he has ever driven in 20+ years. It wasn't bad though, just make sure you get nice and slowed down.

This drive went very well minus two mistakes that would have failed me. I shifted before I was all the way over a train track, and I missed a gear trying to down-shift for a red light and coasted more than one tractor-trailer length to stop. I still needed to watch my mirrors more and work on turns, but it was a good spot to go into the week-end I think.

Week 4, the final week!

I came back in Tuesday for another backing range. I got my offset down to where I was making it every time, and a lot of times without a pull-up. The 90 was still less certain. I could get it in most times with a couple pull-ups, but I was also still getting it into situations where I had no room to correct without re-setting the whole thing. I would like to suggest here that you not be afraid to do just that. Hitting cones will put you over your points real fast. You get 2 free pull-ups and they are only a point each after that. Don't be afraid to pull up and re-set from the beginning if you get a bad angle.

Wednesday was my Night Drive! It was also my first mountain pass! Scary! Well... not really. I got the last instructor for this one and he was FANTASTIC! Super layed back, but also informative and very intelligent. I could just tell that he WANTED me to succeed, not just in passing my test but in my future career. He explained a lot of things that no one else had bothered too, things that didn't apply on test day, but were very useful to know for real driving. He had us stop at a weigh-station and go in and chat with the officer on duty, showed me his screens and how it all worked. He gave me a lot of compliments on my shifting and driving, and overall just made me feel very at ease and gave my confidence a big boost!

On top of all that, we went almost straight to the freeway! So we were just cruising for the first hour or so, heading out to the pass. I was a little tense as we started heading up some steep grades, but it didn't last long. Just found the right gear for the hill and the speed I wanted, ( I think it was 7th on the 8 speed). He had me watch the water temp but it didn't go over 200. I didn't even realize we were making the pass until we were at the top and he had me turn around to go back down!

Going down was 5-6% grade. I took in 7th again, doing about 35-40, 3 seconds on the brake, 9 or so off. Not hard at all! By the time we got back to town and had lunch it was dark out. A different feel driving at night, not bad, but I prefer day-time. He had noticed my starts were rough, so he had me work on my starts in the shifting range for a bit. No idea why but on this ONE day, my starts were just TERRIBLE, and I killed it several times dumping the clutch. Well they got better, and it was a great day over all, but I still came out worried that I was gonna be killing the engine on test day and get a fail for it.

Thursday was another backing range then a drive with Hardnose, but my confidence was way up, and I didn't give him much to yell at me about. He said it was my day this time, and we would work on what I wanted to. Well, just as randomly as my starts had gone bad yesterday, they were back to normal today, so I said work on turns, and that is what we did. On and off the freeway a couple times, and through some intersections. It went good and I came out feeling good about everything. At this point, I knew the only way I could fail was either messing up the 90 somehow, or just doing something REALLY dumb, like running a stop-sign or hitting something on a curb.

Tomorrow was test day! I could hardly believe how fast all this had gone. It seemed like I'd been there a week or two max, but here I was at the end of the line, scheduled as the first one of three of us students to test out at 7 am tomorrow!

HAZMAT:

Hazardous Materials

Explosive, flammable, poisonous or otherwise potentially dangerous cargo. Large amounts of especially hazardous cargo are required to be placarded under HAZMAT regulations

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Deke's Comment
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Thanks for the briefing. I'm considering heading to Sage in Indianapolis in the couple of months.

Feanor K.'s Comment
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Thanks for the briefing. I'm considering heading to Sage in Indianapolis in the couple of months.

Very welcome! Thanks for reading :)

Apologies for lack of updates, orientation at System and now my first couple days on the road with a trainer have been taking all my time and focus. Tomorrow we are sitting at a truckstop in Kansas probably all day waiting to deliver, so I'll try to finish this off then.

Feanor K.'s Comment
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Okay! Test day. Took me FOREVER to fall asleep the night before, only got about 5 hours. Couldn't stop going over ways I could fail the test.

Got up at about 5:30 and was there at 6:30, half hour early. 7 several people showed up, and I wasn't sure who was the tester, so I just waited by my car. About 10 mins later the school director came out and got me to meet the examiner. He was a nice enough guy, and we went over paperwork for about 5 mins then he had us go out to the yard.

He had me check the oil and the fan then hop in and start her up for a signal-light check. Then on to the outside inspection. I had this one down by like the 3rd day of class so I was not worried. It went well and he had me hop in for the in-cab. Nailed that too, and I was feeling a bit more confident.

Straight back was easy ofcourse, although I did start drifting a bit at the end for some reason and almost freaked out and turned the wrong way, but he gave me the thumbs up before I could screw it up. Pulled up and on to the offset.

It was blindside which I actually was doing a lot better on than the sight-side. Nailed that without a pull-up, but when he gave me the wave forward to start the 90, I thought he was telling me to pull up and correct. Didn't realize till he came up and asked where I was going. By then I was in an awkward position to get re-positioned for the 90. I had to back up again and come at it again, but didn't myself enough room. As a result I had a bad time trying to do the U turn and get it set up for the 90 on the other side of the course.

I got it close to where I wanted it, I wasn't really happy, but I was getting worried that I was gonna get failed for time if I didn't go, so I was just like, HERE GOES! It was a different angle than what I had been practicing all week and I was sure I was gonna screw it up at first, but then I started setting the angle and my instincts took over. I had to come in pretty sharp, and it took two or three pull ups to get truck and trailer straight, but I knew I had it once the trailer was in there. I had my last big scare when I realized that I was paying so much attention to not hitting cones that I wasn't paying attention to how far back I was. I slammed the brakes and saw that I had just BARELY stopped short of hitting the back - a ten point penalty that would have failed me. I got the thumbs up though, and the instructor did some papers then hopped in and said let's go for a drive.

Here we go. The pull-out of the drive-way was one of the worst parts, it was tiny and you had to start full on the left-side just to make a right turn out, and hog both lanes for like twenty feet to keep from curbing. Fortunately traffic was light that morning, and we made it out just fine, and my starts were smooth. We pulled up to the first light and he asked me to make a right. Crap. One of the tightest turns in town, and straight to a hill. I took it too shallow and went over the curb a little with my tandems. The horror! I thought I was going to be failed right there, but he just said to give it a little more room. I took the hill in 5th just to be safe, too slow for the traffic but better than missing my gears and stalling.

Next turn he let me know ahead that I was gonna have to go into the gravel to clear it, and I did. Then on to ANOTHER super-tight turn, left this time. Again he let me know I'd have to curb a little to make it and go really slow. I did and it's a good thing he informed me because it was TIGHT. I think I went through all the worst turns in Post Falls that trip lol.

From there we went through an S curve and on to a train crossing. Fortunately we had practiced this part of the route a lot, and I did just fine. Then on to the free-way. Easy peasy. After a couple miles he had me exit and I made my only big mistake besides the curb at the start. He asked me to get in the left lane, but I thought he was pointing right, and started into there. I had to cut across into the left at the last second and blocked both. He didn't look happy but didn't say much.

From there it was a straight shot back, and we got in smooth. I was feeling pretty good about it at this point, until he started talking. He had been quiet up to this point, but suddenly started in about how I needed to not whip the truck in lane changes, and got annoyed when I had trouble getting in position to back it back up to park. His whole attitude became very disapproving and I was suddenly sure I had failed.

He sat there doing paperwork for another couple minutes while I just sat there, too scared to ask if I passed or not. Finally he hands me a piece of paper. Passed All is all it said. He told me again the things I did wrong and needed to fix, but I was so happy I just grinned and shook his hand and thanked him. I had my CDL!

I'm not sure why he had the attitude switch at the end, I think maybe he didn't want me to get ****y just because I had a licence now and remind me that I was still a rookie with a lot to learn. I was just so happy to have passed and be getting my licence though! The school director came out to congratulate me, and get the next student on the list. I let him know what details I could, and wished him best of luck (he passed, I learned later)!

They gave me some instructions on what to do next, and I went to my car, still grinning like a fool. I took a selfie, by the truck I had driven in and sent it my fam, then went home to celebrate! I had my CDL!

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

Tandems:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Tandem:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

SAP:

Substance Abuse Professional

The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

G-Town's Comment
member avatar

Congratulations!!!

dancing-banana.gifdancing-banana.gifdancing-banana.gifdancing-banana.gif

That's great.

A couple of things to think about. First of all I know from my own experience when someone is issuing verbal directions it's very easy to misunderstand the meaning. Couple that with nerves, and the result is predictable.

I can understand the whipping comment he made. Once you are under a load that kind of dynamic can cause a load shift and possible damage to your freight.

What counts is that you passed and probably know exactly how to correct your mistakes.

Best of luck as you take the next step!

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